David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures: Lecture 1, “The God of Abraham Praise”
Iain Torrance provided an introduction, situating Kelsey’s work and discussing some responses to his recent anthropology, Eccentric Existence, such as those by J. Kameron Carter and David Fergusson. Torrance’s own judgment is that Kelsey’s is a “truly magisterial work.”All this was simply how Kelsey framed the discussion. He went on to cover much more in his first lecture than this, and of course there aer 5 more lectures in the series. We can also rightly expect that his material will be revised and expanded before it goes to publication. Therefore, we will all have to wait a while before we get a glimpse at the final form that Kelsey’s doctrine of God will take. But, those who attended the remaining lectures got a foretaste, and those of you who continue to follow the PTS theoblogger coverage of these lectures - in keeping with something like neo-platonic emanations of the divine being which descend in purity and power - will receive a foretaste of that foretaste. Stay tuned!
“The God of Abraham Praise”
Kelsey began by reflecting on the relationship between his Warfield lectures and his anthropology. For Kelsey, these lectures represent the opportunity to work out what sort of doctrine of God his anthropology presupposes. He asked two opening questiosn: (1) Why praise God at all? (2) Why praise the God of Abraham in particular? Kelsey wants to begin theology with the concrete practice of Christian praise of God, and try to explore what the consequences of such practice is for a truly Christian doctrine of God. He thinks that there are benefits associated with raising what he calls “the God-question” in this way.
For Kelsey, there are three standard alternative ways in which the God-question gets raised. (1) Aquinas, for instance, raises the God-question by reflectioin upon the contingency of the cosmos. How does God go about relating to the cosmos so that the cosmos is sustained in its contingency upon God? The God-question here is a cosmological question, and is often connected to the doctrine of providence. (2) Luther raises the God-question with reference to anxiety produced by uncetainty about his salvation. This approach accepts God’s love as real but does not trust it - or at least has trouble trusting it - because that love is always hidden. God’s self-revelation seems to contradict God’s love because that love is revealed in the horror of the cross. Here the God-question is primarily an existential question. (3) Moderntiy raises the God-question with reference to concerns as to whether or not God exist. Playing into this way of posing the question is the enlightenment, science, secularism, hermeneutics of suspicion, horros of modern war, etc. The first two approaches arrose for people who assumed God’s reality, whereas this one does not.
Kelsey takes two points away from this discussion for working on the doctrine of God. (1) The first two questions need each other - Thomas’ cosmological inquiry needs Luther’s existential recognition of God’s hiddenness and the necessity for taking up a faith position. Luther needs Thomas’s insistence that God’s reality is not contingent upon the necessity of our taking up a faith position. (2) The third approach needs the other two as well. God does not need to save us in order to be glorious, but God does reveal himself as glorious by saving us. Answering the God-question cannot be the same as answering a question about oneself. Kelsy wants to see how far he can work within these two points by beginning with the practice of praising Abraham’s God.